Although the COVID-19 pandemic took a big bite out of Seattle City Light's revenues and prompted the municipally owned utility to forgo two significant rate increases in the last 12 months, the City Council on March 29 unanimously approved a retail rate increase, effective April 1, to help bolster the utility [CB 120015].

Customers will see no difference in their bills, however, because the increase replaces one that ended on April 1.

The 3 percent charge set to come off on April 1 funds the utility's rate stabilization account, which cushions against fluctuations in SCL's wholesale revenues, and is removed once the account is adequately funded, which it was after last year.The revenue setbacks came one year into SCL's six-year plan to shore up its financial position through a series of annual rate increases (CU No. 1859 [10]).

But together with greater wholesale revenue in 2020, the council hopes to put the utility back on track.

The COVID-19 pandemic landed in Washington in March 2020, leading to Gov. Jay Inslee's lockdown mandate that month. In the three months that followed, commercial demand in SCL's service territory was nearly 11 percent lower than expected, and remained down by 9 percent through the third quarter and 8 percent in the fourth quarter.

Offices, shops and other commercial customers typically make up 57 percent of Seattle City Light's retail sales. Industrial demand, which makes up 9 percent of sales, fell significantly as well. However, residential demand, which makes up one-third of retail sales, increased by 4 percent between April and the end of the year.

Due to the pandemic's economic impact, the utility scrapped two planned rate increases—5.4 percent in 2020 and 3.6 percent scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2021. The utility also cut around $30 million in expenses.

SCL plans to update its rate plan this summer.

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Contributing Editor

Dan has covered stories from Seattle to Tbilisi; spent time with the AP, Everett Daily Herald and Christian Science Monitor; and was twice a member of a team nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He and his wife have three young children and live in Seattle.